I still get those butterflies when I wake up on a match day. I remember going to my first ever game about twenty years ago and being gripped with anticipation and excitement. That feeling has never changed as I’ve grown older.
This past Sunday morning was no different, even though I was many miles away from home in the picturesque northern city of York. My girlfriend and I were visiting friends for the weekend, but I had made plans to get back to Liverpool in time for the Everton game at Sunday lunchtime.
So we set off early doors and I met my dad in Liverpool for 1pm, just half an hour before kick-off. Usually, we head to the ground earlier and meet some friends at a pub North of Goodison Park. But we were dropped off near Anfield and walked through Stanley Park (that separates Anfield and Goodison; click here for an aerial view) towards the blue side of the divide.
Those familiar sounds and smells greet you as you close in on the stadium; in many respects, they’re the very essence of football. You smell the onions from the burger vans and the scent of salt and vinegar emanating from the chip shop. You hear the heckling of the bloke selling the ‘Golden Goal’ coupons (“better value than Andy Carroll” and “offers bigger than Phil Thompson’s nose” according to him). You make out the cries of street vendors promoting their merchandise (“Hats, scarves and badges!” is a shout synonymous with one seller). Best of all, you hear the steady hum of the match-goers; all chatting and speculating about the ninety minutes ahead.
Those impressions on the senses never get tiresome. They grow on you.
Despite initially looking as though we were going to be running late, we made it into the ground uncharacteristically early; about fifteen minutes before kick-off.
Often, mainly when in the pub before the game, we can get a little too involved in our pre-match chatter before realizing it’s five minutes until kick-off! Plus, getting a drink in the ground is much more hassle and much more expensive than getting one in a nearby boozer.
But we were in early this week, so I got a couple of extortionately priced beers (£3.80/$6.10 a pint!) and talk turned to Everton. It was wholly positive in the main, as a win here would see the team jump five places up the table and into second place. In the same breath, there was a lot of discussion regarding the calibre of the opposition, as Tottenham have also started the season in understatedly impressive fashion.
Talk ceased as we heard the opening drum beats of the Z-Cars theme from the concourse and made our way up to our seats. With it being Everton’s last home game before November 11, the players and supporters observed a poignant one minute silence for Remembrance Day.
But one blast on the referee’s whistle, and thoughts turned to football. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud, the Gwladys Street end roared, and the match was underway. The Spurs fans, lambasted for their efforts a week ago against Hull, were also in fine voice. This is what it’s all about!
In the first half, Tottenham played Everton off the park. They passed the ball with incisiveness, their movement was more fluid, their tackling was stronger and their pressing was sharper. They looked an excellent side and their disciplined shape strangled any Everton attacks with consummate ease. Subsequently, the Toffees were camped in their own area for much of the opening stages. But Spurs failed to make their dominance tell, wasting some great positions and squandering a couple of excellent chances.
The Toffees came out and performed better in the second period, but they too struggled to make any kind of pressure tell. Romelu Lukaku couldn’t really get into the game and the Everton midfield had little forward thrust until the introduction of Ross Barkley. A 0-0 draw was ultimately a fair reflection of a game where both defenses dominated.
There were two major talking points in the game that got some supporters particularly riled. The first being the penalty appeal on Seamus Coleman. The Irish international was felled in the box, but immediately got back to his feet in an attempt to get a shot off. He was fouled, but his honesty looked to have made the referee’s mind up and he waved away the Everton appeals.
We all criticise players for going down easily, but when you see instances like this, is it any wonder why? If Coleman had fallen to the ground with a little more flamboyancy and stayed down he would have no doubt been awarded a penalty. The referee got that decision badly wrong and honest players watching that must have thought “why do I bother?”
The second major incident was Hugo Lloris being knocked unconscious by Lukaku’s stray knee. The keeper initially looked set to come off, but there was suddenly much deliberation and confusion about whether or not he was going to stay on! The referee had no clue how to handle things and the situation quickly became farcical. Lloris was straining to get back on, whereas Michael Dawson and referee Kevin Friend were stopping him; it was all a bit chaotic.
Does Kevin Friend really know what he's doing here? Chaos and uncertainty reigns
— David Prentice (@prenno) November 3, 2013
The whole scenario has given way to a discussion about whether or not players should be allowed to play after being knocked unconscious. It seems a bit of a manufactured debate in the wake of a pretty dull game in all honesty. Let’s not forget, Lukaku himself was knocked out after scoring the winning goal for Everton against West Ham, but because that was a cracker of a game, this whole issue wasn’t mentioned once.
At the end of the day, if the team doctor gives the player the go-ahead to play-on, is there really an issue? Who knows better than a medical professional? Certainly not other players and certainly not the referee.
Anyway, much to my dissatisfaction, Lloris made a couple of telling contributions in the latter stages of the game to thwart Everton. Point proven, I suppose!
Next up at Goodison is the Merseyside derby. Look out for my next column on the biggest game of the season in Liverpool and the tension, hostility and passion that accompanies these special occasions.
But what part of the Premier League match day experience would YOU like to know more about? The games themselves? Pre-match build-up? The stadiums? The atmosphere?
Let me know and I’ll do my best to provide a thorough insight! Leave a message in the comments section or follow me on Twitter @MattJFootball